Historic Whitby decision threat

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey

An idea to make Easter a permanent date would overturn a Whitby decision made more than 1,350 years ago.

The suggested change has come from The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev Justin Welby, who says leaders of the Church of England will join discussions with other churches about fixing the date in the same way as Christmas.

At present Easter, the most important festival in the Church calendar, falls anywhere between March 21 and April 25, because it is the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This year Easter Sunday is March 27.

It was at the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, led by St Hilda, that Easter was fixed.

Cllr Joe Plant said: “The procedure has been in place for centuries – why change it? It would be disrespectful to Whitby.

“The Abbey and the Synod of 664 are synonymous with Whitby and we have many pilgrims to the town as a result. There have been no problems with Easter being a movable feast. It is possible to work out the date for decades ahead through The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer.

“If it isn’t broken why go about trying to change it?”

The Bishop of Whitby, Rt Rev Paul Ferguson, said talks would have to be held with the Vatican on the Archbishop’s suggestion. “I think there will be quite a debate about in the town and I look forward to seeing how the debate unfolds.”

Town Mayor of Whitby, Cllr Heather Coughlan, is baffled by the Archbishop’s move. “Whitby jealously guards its history and heritage of which the Synod and Captain James Cook are a major part.

“I don’t think it necessary to interfere with something which has worked well for 1,400 years and I’m sure the people of Whitby will take the same view.

“It sounds more like a suggestion from an office manager than the Church.”

Archbishop Welby said the Government had been warned of the potential move to fix the date and he expected it to happen between five and 10 years time but not sooner because calendars and diaries would probably have been printed for the next five years.

The Synod of Whitby was a Northumbrian synod where King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled and would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than customs practised by Irish monks.The synod was summoned at St Hilda’s double monastery of Streonshalh, later known as Whitby Abbey.